Fast Forward: Karin, thank you for participating in this interview and sharing with us information about your latest Anna Denning mystery. A story’s protagonist often reflects an author’s personality, or displays characteristics the author has chosen to explore. Can you please tell us some of the back story that defines your protagonist but isn’t included in the published novels?
Karin Kaufman: My protagonist, Anna Denning, is like me in some areas but unlike me in others. As a writer you can’t help but give your lead character some of your own traits—it happens without you thinking about it—but at the same time, you have to make certain that your protagonist is a separate individual, with a personality and background somewhat removed from your own.
The most important back story in Anna’s life is the death of her husband Sean, who died two years prior to the beginning of the first novel in the series, The Witch Tree. His death rewrote, and continues to rewrite, how she looks at the world. How she sees her friends and their lives, what she thinks about money and work, and how she looks at Gene Westfall, the man she’s learning to love. Most important, Sean’s death almost shattered her faith in God, and she’s still trying to reconstruct that faith. It’s a long, hard process, nothing easy or sugary about it.
Fast Forward: After writing the first novel in a series, it seems that subsequent novels would flow out fully formed. The author has the basics down: format for the storyline; a feel for the proper number of plot lines and chapters; techniques for creating a charismatic protagonist and supporting characters; secrets to making the antagonist likeable; and guidelines for adding conflict right up to and through the denouement. How has writing become easier for you; and what remains as difficult now as when you wrote the first novel?
Karin Kaufman: Some things are easier with the second novel in a series. You’ve already got the returning characters down. By the time you’ve finished the first novel, you know them well—and you like them (which I think is important). You know their history, you know what they went through over the course of the first book, and you have a rough idea of where they’re headed. Though the details of how they’re going to get there aren’t so easy. And for me, because I like intricate plots, the story itself can be difficult. I like to keep adding layers to it. But plot aside, writing in general has become easier. I think most writers find that they get better with the basic techniques of writing the more they write.
Fast Forward: To hold a reader’s attention, a series protagonist must continue to grow or change in each novel. Without revealing any spoilers, how has your protagonist developed or changed from Book #1, The Witch Tree?
Karin Kaufman: The mystery series I like best are ones in which the protagonist (and her or his world) changes. Like real life—only slower. The events of Sparrow House take place in May, about four and a half months after the events of the first book. During those four and a half months, my characters lived their lives. Things happened to them; their worlds changed.
Anna grew closer to Gene, though as a widow, she’s still finding it difficult to leave her past behind. She takes baby steps toward him, but her love for Sean hasn’t faded, and she’s reluctant to give her whole heart to Gene. That was a deliberate choice on my part, because you just don’t get over the death of a loved one that easily. I’ve always hated TV movies that portray a widow falling in happy, carefree love only a year after the death of her husband. Nonsense. If she really loved her husband, she’ll be conflicted about a new love. Aren’t we all suspicious of people who get married a year after the death of a spouse? And considering how long it takes to get to know someone new, marrying even two years after the death of a spouse can be pushing it for many people.
Fast Forward: A series requires the presence of a continuing main character. Often, however, there is another recurring character. The almost infinite pairings of main characters with guy/girl Fridays or wingmen could claim its own category on Jeopardy. Is there a recurring secondary character in your series? What is the purpose/role of that character within the plot?
Karin Kaufman: Anna’s sidekick is definitely her best friend, Liz Halvorsen, who plays a larger role in Sparrow House than she did in The Witch Tree. They’re a great pair. Liz’s skills on the computer, and the contacts she’s developed as a result of running a news website, are invaluable. Anna and Liz butt heads a little in Sparrow House, but their friendship is enduring, the kind that overcomes their natural differences. Anna’s dog Jackson is also her sidekick. She adores him, and he goes everywhere she goes—he even stays overnight with her in the Sparrow House mansion.
Fast Forward: Researching a new novel takes the author on a journey to many new places, whether through books, movies, newspapers, or physical travel. What did you most enjoy about the research process of your second novel, and where did your research take you?
Karin Kaufman: Research is funny. Sometimes you just don’t know that you don’t know something. You make assumptions you shouldn’t make. When I first began to plot Sparrow House, for example, I wrote that Sparrow House itself, the mansion, was built in 1911 of bricks hauled from a Fort Collins kiln west into the foothills on Highway 34. That’s all fine, except for the highway part. There were major brick manufacturers in the Fort Collins area around the turn of the century, and there were mansions of that era built of brick, but it turns out that the western end of Highway 34, into the Colorado foothills, didn’t exist in 1911. That would take another twenty-plus years. Who knew?
Great background on your research for the mansion, Karin. Please tell us where we, your fans, can find you and your books on the Internet?
Links:My books are on Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, and at Kobo.
You can find me all over the Internet:Website: http://www.karinkaufman.com
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/authorkarinkaufman